Job Title: _______

We’re in the middle of purchasing a new house — a process that has us constantly filling out a million forms, all the time. There’s always one section on the form that asks for your employer and your occupation. I always pause here. How exactly do I write what I do in one simple box on a loan application? I can put down my official title — but even that would draw more questions than it would answers. So I typically just simplify it to just, writer.

I’m not really a writer. I’m not really a designer either, though. I’m a little bit more than that that. I’m a Conversational Designer. Cognitive Copywriter. Dialog Architect… There’s been several wordy titles thrown around for what I do. So what do I do?

Leading a Design Thinking workshop centered around conversation + personality of an assistant for a client in Paris, France

When Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram first jumped on the scene there weren’t any guidelines for businesses to properly navigate these mediums. There certainly weren’t any job descriptions for the people who would be in charge of running these social media accounts for their respective companies.

Social Media Managers and Content Strategists’ job titles didn’t always exist. As these roles evolved with the evolution of the platforms, these employees learned how to communicate as the voice of their brand. They decided what personality the brand would take on, what voice or persona would be put forth, and what content would ultimately represent their brand on each site.

Companies had to get creative with how to reach their audience in a new way. Many businesses had been working with ad agencies in the print &/or digital space for years, but social media was now a new ballgame. They were responsible for creating an entirely new voice and presence online.

Now with the introduction and increase of chatbots & digital assistants, we’re back in that season of discovery. We’re trying to figure out how to navigate a new space and make this technology work for us. But who are the “Social Media Managers” of this new technology? Who are the people that give these interfaces a voice? Who decides what personality these assistants take on? Who decides what they talk about? What they don’t talk about? This is where the Conversational Designer comes in.

When an interface behaves in a socially competent manner, our evolutionary hard-wiring causes us to interact with it as if it were human.
-Cynthia L. Breazeal
Designing Sociable Robots

When a user comes across a poorly designed app or website, it’s easy for them to say why that experience was frustrating for them. Maybe the font was too small? Maybe navigation was difficult? Maybe the colors on the page were too bright or too dark? With voice (or text!) interactions that are based on conversation, the reaction to a poor design is more instinctive. The user isn’t really sure why it annoys them, they just know that it does — as soon as the interface fails to deliver and reveals that it is, in fact, a “machine.”

When we interact with these digital assistants, we subconsciously hear a “human” voice and automatically assign expectations based on our preconceived notions of human language and conversation. We expect it to converse in the same way a human would — even though consciously we know it’s a machine. This is where the importance of a having a good conversation designer comes in; when you think about designing the conversation from the beginning of the experience (always with the user in mind!), the overall experience will feel normal to your user.

The value of design is to improve lives and leave the world better than we found it. Such is true with conversational design — we want to make the conversation between human and machine as fluid as possible and better than it has been. But before we can do that we have to ask ourselves three important questions:

  1. What is the purpose of your interface or offering? What is the thing that it’s doing? What is the reason for your user to engage? This will shift and change as your user engages over time.
  2. What is the value prop the user is receiving? How is this tangibly improving the user’s life in some way?
  3. How do you establish trust with your user? How do you show that you’re the only one who can do this thing the way that you do it, the best way that you can while keeping their information safe?

When it comes to designing conversation for your interface or offering, your focus has to be in providing experiences that put the user first. The best way to design a conversation is to think of it as designing a relationship between your user and your solution.

Remember your purpose, remember the value that you’re offering the user, and remember why they should trust you. Keep in mind that their reaction to your design is instinctive — they don’t know why they’re not going to like it if you fail, they just know they won’t. Have a plan of action to counteract that reaction if and when you do fail — a solution to an “unhappy path” as I like to call it. If you get stuck along the way just remember, you can always ask a user for help/feedback; user research is often the most underrated/underutilized skill in design.

So, what’s my role in all of this again? 
I write scripts that our humans and machines can run through a “table read” of before launch, in order to identify any potential flags in the conversation. I design specific conversation flows/logic maps between human and machine to ensure that there are no “hiccups” or “dead-ends” in the ebb & flow that could cause you — the user — to become confused or want to disengage. I’m here to make sure that you — the user — is thought of in every step of the design and development process so that you end up with a product that meets your needs and solves for your pain points.

But you want me to write that all in one box on a loan application?
Then sure, I guess just put writer.